Cyprus talk dominates heated EU-Turkey meet

Cyprus talk dominates heated EU-Turkey meet

ANKARA – Hürriyet Daily News
Cyprus talk dominates heated EU-Turkey meet

Turkey’s EU Minister Egemen Bağış (2nd L) left the meeting right after delivering his speech, prompting a negative reaction from some of the committee members. AA photo

The decades-long Cyprus dispute dominated yet another meeting of the EU-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Committee yesterday, which turned into an ugly slanging match between committee members.

“[EU Minister] Egemen Bağış reminds me of a small salesman. He is waiting idle as he has no customers. There is a saying in Turkish: ‘The idle shopkeeper weighs blah blah.’ I hope you accept this as a joke,” a Greek Cypriot member of the European Parliament (EP), Takis Hadjigeorgiou, said while addressing the committee meeting.

Hadjigeorgiou’s words came in response to remarks by Bağış, who had likened Greek Cypriots to “a stubborn mule.” Bağış was not in the meeting hall when the remarks were delivered.

Accusations continued to be exchanged between Turkish, Greek and Greek Cypriot deputies, to the point where co-chair Hélène Flautre had to intervene. She complained that every meeting became stuck at the Cyprus debate, distancing the talks from their real essence.

Turkish Deputy EU Minister Alaattin Büyükkaya said Greece and Greek Cyprus were always “stopping” Turkey-EU meetings. “Do you represent the European Parliament, or Greece, or the Greek Cypriot administration?” he asked.

In his opening speech, Minister Bağış said Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan would be visiting Brussels on Jan. 21. “We believe that this visit will be beginning of a new era in relations between Turkey and EU,” he stated.

However, later on committee members were highly critical of Bağış, Turkish Parliament Speaker Cemil Çiçek, and Committee Co-Chair Atıf Demirkıran, as all three left the venue immediately after delivering their opening speeches.

“It is shocking that they left without answering our questions,” British lawmaker Richard Howitt said, while also criticizing the Turkish government, saying “democracy is not merely about winning elections.”

Some European lawmakers also drew attention to the decision of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to become a member of the Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists (AECR) in the European Parliament, saying the move raised concerns over vagueness of the party’s will on EU membership.

In reply to criticisms, AKP deputy Ali Şahin explained that Bağış and Demirkıran had to leave the meeting in order to participate in the AKP’s local election candidate announcement ceremony. With regard to the AKP’s previous observer status in the European Peoples’ Party (EPP), Şahin recalled that the decision to move to the AECR was because the EPP had refused to accept the AKP as a permanent member.

“It’s not an attitude that will negatively affect Turkey’s bid for EU membership,” he said.

Czech deputy Jan Zahradil, meanwhile, expressed support for the Turkish side, saying the criticisms of Turkey were “partisan.” “Nobody can criticize the AKP for leaving the EPP. Everybody has the right to choose their own group,” Zahradil said.

However, German deputy Renate Sommer criticized remarks delivered by Prime Minister Erdoğan during the Gezi Park incidents, in which Erdoğan slammed an EP report by saying, “I don’t recognize the European Parliament.”

In reply to the German deputy, Ali Şahin said Erdoğan’s remarks were against an EP resolution that he believed amounted to “interference in Turkey’s domestic affairs.”